Avoiding Cultural Colonization at Work

Speaker(s): ana.willem

Every workplace has it's culture and the agencies and departments within the US Government are no exception. 

Moving into a government job is a lot like moving to the south. In the southern United States, they speak English. Most of the corporate chains are the same or similar to their counterparts in other regions of the states. Basically, you move to the south, and you think you are just moving to another state in the United States.

But this is just not the case is it?

It took me 2 years of living in Atlanta to realize that 'Bless her heart' did not mean something good. It took my gallbladder another 2 years to recover from the fried macaroni ball phase of my eating choices in Little Five Points. I went to the south as an engineer and community organizer, and after about a month of leading organizational meetings, I had breakfast with my mentor.

She said, 'Ana, I know that you are the leader of the meetings, but from now I don't want you to ever start a meeting.' She said, 'I know you mean well, but in the south, if we don't hear about brother Eddies grandkids, and Emma May's wedding preparations, and what's going on with Becky's delinquent grandchild first, then folks at the meeting are just not going to be able to settle down into the matter at hand.

She said, 'You start with the business, and then you catch up with folks afterwards if there is time. But that's not how it works here. The stories make way for us all to work together.'

In many ways, working in the south (if you are not from there) is similar to working with the government (or really any distinct work culture). At first, things seem normal. But slowly and eventually you come to recognize that actually you are interacting with a very distinct culture. And that things like, 'Hey, nice tie,' can actually mean something much, much more nuanced.

This presentation is part emergency first aid, part curative story balm for the soul in a sea of node-entity diagrams, and part instruction manual for respectfully engaging in any culture that is different from your own, whilst retaining the majesty of honorably remaining your adorable and unique self.

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Community and Being Human